Kenya is coercing residents of the world’s largest refugee camp to leave it and return to Somalia where they risk getting killed or forcibly recruited into the Islamic extremist group, al-Shabab, Amnesty International said Tuesday.
Some who voluntarily returned to Somalia from Dadaab camp told The Associated Press they are now facing hunger despite promises that they would be assisted.
Kenya’s government announced in May that Dadaab, with more than 280,000 residents, will be closed at the end of this month, saying the camp was creating security problems.
The Kenyan government is forcing Dadaab residents to go back to Somalia without adequate support, Amnesty said in its report. Its researchers visited Dadaab in August, where they interviewed 56 refugees individually and held group discussions.
“The refugees are caught between a rock and a hard place. Kenyan government officials are telling them they must leave by the end of the month (November) or they will be forced to leave without any assistance,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s deputy director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“These actions contravene the Kenyan government’s assurances to the international community that it would ensure all refugee repatriations are voluntary and carried out in safety and dignity,” she said.
Halimo Abdow, a mother of nine who returned to Somalia from Dadaab in August, told The Associated Press she was given a 10-day deadline to leave the camp by Kenyan security agents who threatened that they would forcibly evict her if she did not leave.
“When you are a foreigner, you have no choice … you must listen to them. We notified the U.N. and other agencies about that problem, but they ignored our pleas to intervene,” she said by phone from Afgoye, an agricultural town 30 kilometers (18miles) north of Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital.
Abdow initially arrived in Mogadishu to stay at a refugee camp but moved back to her hometown, complaining of a lack of assistance by aid agencies.
“In Dadaab, we had peace and daily rations of food, but here Somalia we get none of those things. We are dying of starvation,” said Amina Nur, a mother of six, sitting under an acacia tree near the Somali capital.
“I volunteered to return home because aid workers told us that we’d get resettlement, daily food and water. But no one has come to our assistance,” she said.
Some Somali refugees have been living in Dadaab in eastern Kenya for more than 20 years, since Somalia descended into chaos following the 1991 ouster of longtime dictator Siad Barre by warlords who then turned on each other.
The Amnesty report includes the accounts of two brothers, aged 15 and 18, who left Dadaab for Somalia in January 2016 but then returned to the camp four months later. They said when they got to Somalia, their father was killed in front of them and they were forced to join al-Shabab. The brothers eventually escaped from the extremists and made it back to Dadaab.
The reports that Kenya is forcing refugees to leave Dadaab contradicts Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s assurances that the returns will be voluntary. “Kenya continues to work toward the safe and dignified repatriation of refugees from the Dadaab camp,” Kenyatta told U.S. President Barack Obama in a telephone conversation in September, according to Kenyatta’s press office.
Kenya has said the closure of Dadaab is necessary because the sprawling camp is a recruitment ground for al-Shabab and a base for the extremist group to launch attacks on Kenya. Al-Shabab has carried out several attacks on Kenya, which sent troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight the militants who are waging an insurgency against the country’s weak western-backed government. Al-Shabab’s attacks on Kenyan targets include the September 21, 2013 attack on Westgate mall that killed 67 people and last year’s attack on Garissa University that left 148 people, mostly students, dead.
But officials have not provided conclusive proof that the camp is a staging ground for extremist attacks. Some Kenyan officials have said the Westgate attackers came from Dadaab but investigators later said they came from a different refugee camp, Kakuma, which is mostly populated by South Sudanese refugees in northern Kenya.
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